Cold Glide Ski Wax Information, Application and Tips

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This Tech Pages assumes that you have already read and understood the Tech Page on Glide Wax Application. We also recommend that the Tech page on Base Wax Preparation be read for background information.

Background Information

Your ski bases have a certain hardness to them that are typically best suited to "warm" or "average" snow temperatures. (Some ski manufacturers offer skis with special bases tuned to very warm or very cold conditions.) This hardness is tuned or adjusted through the use of glide wax. A cold or extremely cold glide wax will make the ski base harder. A harder ski base is better suited to cold or extreme cold conditions because snow crystals get harder as the temperature gets colder. The snow crystals are able to do this because ice and snow crystals shrink as they get colder. The crystals become more dense. Water is one of the very few molecules that has this property.

The surface structure of the ski base also has a critical effect at very cold temperatures. A structure that works well for "warm" conditions generally performs poorly in the very cold. For warm conditions the base structure typically used is more "coarse" than for cold conditions. This means the surface of the base tends to be rough with wide and/or deep micro structures to help promote water film flow and to reduce surface tension (suction). While these structures are ideal at the warmer temperatures they can actually be detramental in cold temperatures. A smoother base structure with thinner more shallow micro structures typically work best with very cold temperatures. The reasons for this are generally understood to be that it is harder to produce a water film and whisking it away quickly may not be desired, and the hard snow crystal penetrating into the microstructures "grab" the ski more. The "grab" is that the crystal's tip is less likely to be sheered when interacting with the base structure. The sheered portion of a crystal can contribute to the production of the water film.

By having a ski base/structure/wax combination that matches the snow hardness several things are achieved: the water film that the ski glides on will be more optimally produced, the wax job will last longer, dry friction glide will be reduced. A soft wax would "lose the battle" with a harder snow crystal; the soft wax would be easily worn off and the soft wax cannot produce a water film to improve glide.

Hard waxes, regardless of the wax brand, have in common that they are larger molecules than their soft wax siblings. The hard wax molecules tend to be fairly long and straight. The spaces in the surface and outer layer of the ski base tend to not be accomodating for the space of the cold and extreme cold waxes. Thus while the hardness of the cold waxes matches the hardness of the cold snow, the cold waxes have great difficulty in bonding or "hooking" into the ski base. In contrast soft waxes tend to be short making it easier for them to penetrate or "hook" into the ski base.

Thus a conundrum is born: soft waxes will hook into the base well but don't do well with cold snow, while hard waxes do well with cold snow but don't hook into the base well. The result is both waxes wear off quickly resulting in bad glide.

The solution is to layer different glide waxes in specific combinations. We prefer to name the initial wax layers as the "underlayers" since they are under the final glide layer. Some people refer to these underlayers as "base wax". Calling the underlayers "base wax" can confuse the fair reader with "base preparation wax" which is related but not the same thing.

We always recommend that "base preparation waxing" be done regularly with your skis. This will help improve glide and durability for all waxes (cold or warm). See the Base Wax Preparation web page.

When a warmer wax is applied it can penetrate the ski base better than a cold wax. When a cold wax is applied over the warm wax layer the warm wax can "hook" onto the colder wax. The effect is the warmer wax holds the cold wax to the ski base while the cold wax protects the warm wax from being worn off. If the cold wax coverage is incomplete (i.e. gaps) then the wax job will be prone to wearing off more quickly and giving poor glide. Application technique is critical for the layering approach to succeed.

Base preparation wax penetrates the deepest into the ski base and thus has the strongest hold. A "cool" wax (i.e. violet) will not penetrate the ski base as well as base preparation wax but will penetrate much better than a cold wax (i.e. blue or green). At the same time one wax type has a better hooking ability to a wax that is closer to it in hardness. Thus a base preparation wax can hook onto violet wax better than it can blue wax, and blue wax can be hooked by violet wax better than base preparation wax.

Cold waxes are usually blue (Ski*go Blue) or green (Ski*go Green). Extreme cold waxes tend to be in a powder form called a "hardener". Hardeners are in powder form are Ski*go's C380, C75 & P16. Correctly these are waxes in their own right -- just extra hard waxes. Using a hardener can dramatically improve the glide of your skis and we highly recommend that it be used at cold temperatures.

It is important when waxing for very cold temperatures that excess warm wax is thoroughly removed. You do not need any warm wax exposed to the snow at these temperatures because this will not only slow the ski down, but also promote the wearing of the wax off of the ski base. This is where application technique becomes important if not critical.

Clearing of the ski base is always best achieved with a non-fluoronated ski wax using the molten wipe method: wipe or scrape the wax off the ski base while it is still molten.

Our favoured technique is to molten wipe the last underlayer wax when it is very cold (such as Ski*go green). Then allow the ski to cool, brush lots and apply the underlayer (i.e. Ski*go green) again. Now allow it to cool as per a regular wax job, scrape and brush. Place the skis outside to get very cold. Return the skis to the wax room one at a time and brush again. A ski base will contract as it cools squeezing ski wax out. Get the excess out now rather than the first 5km of your ski. Now apply the final hardest wax layer (i.e. Ski*go C380 or C75). Let it cool.

Now using a sharp scraper scrape with a sharp scraper in thin, light passes to remove the majority of the excess. Then use the brass roto-brush lightly to remove the excess. Follow-up by polishing with the White roto-brush thoroughly.

Typical reasons for very cold waxing failures are: the wrong base structure (too coarse), wax underlayers not brushed thoroughly enough (waxes mixing), final hard layer not bonded to the underlayers due to too short an exposure time with the iron (no "hook"), deciding not using a hardener because the wax claims to work at a colder temperature (poor judgement), excess warm wax left on the base (poor scraping and/or poor brushing). Always use a sharp scraper with thin, light strokes to avoid "popping" the cold wax off of the base. If you find you must press hard with the scraper to remove the wax then the scraper is not sharp enough. A dull scraper takes a longer time with more effort to produce a poorer result.

When working with the very cold waxes the temperature of the iron needs to be hot enough. This is typically 140° to 145°C. We would recommend you making multiple passes with the iron to (a) distribute the wax, (b) smooth the wax and then (c) heat the wax enough. This method reduces the chances of "base burn" and because of the thinness of the wax layer being applied enough heat will penetrate the wax to bond with the base & wax underlayers. The wax should appear to have had gone molten. There should be no cracking in the wax. Allow the skis to cool gradually. If cracks appear you should do touch-ups with the iron in these areas as these are the areas that the wax has likely *not* bonded to the base.

It is a myth that hardeners can only be used in low humidity conditions or at -15°C or are difficult to use. You can use a high fluoro underlayer at higher humidities or a hardener designed for higher humidities (such as Ski*go's P16 and C75)). When snow conditions are very abrasive (sand-like), hardeners can be used at warmer temperatures. The Ski*go hardener waxes go as warm as -4°C.

Application Tips for Hardeners

Hardeners come in a powdered or crystal form. Applying them is quite easy once you know how. As mentioned above, underlayers are always recommended. Often the underlayer will be another cold wax (such as a blue or green) or will be a graphite wax to reduce the static buildup on the base at low to normal humidities. The hardener is sprinkled across the base as evenly as possible. It does not need to be a perfect job because the iron will melt the wax and it will flow out to become even. Once the wax is sprinkled it should be tacked-down. Tacking-down means pressing the iron flat on the base for one (1) second and then lifting the iron and moving to another section of the ski and repeating the action. Now the powder is secure to the ski and you may slide the iron along the base as you would normally. Be sure that the hardener becomes liquid/flowing. Then allow it to cool slowly. When hardener is applied in a thin enough layer just roto-brushing can often do the job. But using a little more wax is usually the safer path to choose. If you need to scrape then do so with a sharp scraper and light strokes. Be sure to let the ski cool outside to get cold before the final polishing. Remember that the ski base will contract and force wax out of the base as it gets colder.


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